“Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher
Many years ago, before living in Vancouver and Victoria, I followed a couple of friends to Whistler, British Columbia to work for a summer. Despite my excitement at going, the being there was much different than I had expected. It seemed tough to make friends and find a job, and it ripped up the hard-won familiarity I had felt before leaving. While the first few days and weeks felt almost wretched, my old home slowly sunk away and was replaced by a new place that was polished, the rough worn away.
My friends had a dog that I walked on my days off, and those are among the moments I remember best from that time. Outside of the almost daily bus ride from Pemberton to Whistler that curved along the Sea to Sky Highway and the near perfect silence that fell like a pin at night, I grew to love the trees and the small streams the dog would play in, the peacefulness and strange lull the backdrop of the mountains provided. At the end of the summer, even though I knew there was nothing else for me to seek, it still devastated me to say goodbye.
Ends, in whatever form they take, are almost always difficult to deal with. It’s not merely the gust of unfamiliarity that takes us over and that we must struggle to comprehend, it’s the thing left behind – the loved thing that will be no more. But, while it is still often a necessity to leave a place behind, staying in touch is easier than it was back then with sites like Facebook that enable one to stack up friends like 5-cent coins. Now, there’s little reason for proper ends, and no need to stand on street corners saying goodbye for all eternity.
In an interview with The Paris Review a few years ago, the writer Jonathan Franzen spoke of our culture’s fixation with youth and how it influences the endings in fiction. Speaking of this lack of closure, he stated that:
“Everything is still guessed at, every conclusion is provisional. And this came to be my gripe with the postmodern aversion to closure…Aversion to closure can be refreshing at certain historical moments, when ossified cultural narratives need to be challenged. But it loses its subversive bite in a culture that celebrates eternal adolescence. It becomes part of the problem.”
It may be a cliché, but it’s often the opposite of something that further accentuates its meaning: light and dark, urban and rural, cold and hot. While Franzen rails against the obsession with youth and – as a direct result – the inability to end things properly, online friendship seems to run parallel to this current. We are no more immaterial than we were 10 years ago, but an aspect of goodbye – a goodbye without any strings attached – has been lost in the Internet of things. There is something enticing in the endless story, but goodbyes are a product of real life. Without them, how do we really move beyond what was?
Whether it’s a home for the summer or a new acquaintance, goodbye is a necessary aspect of life, the parting and the resurrection – the ‘foretaste of death’. Without a moment to reflect on what’s been left behind and to understand that the current is irretrievably changed, how do we recognize the signposts of life? Life, indubitably, will prove to us its finiteness, no matter the way in which we choose to obscure it.